Pension bill and political loyalty will not change: Dhalla

October 8 2009

A Brampton politician’s attempt to change the pension act is now drawing opposition from members of her own party as well as some Canadians.

Brampton-Springdale MP Ruby Dhalla said her much criticized Private Member’s Bill will not be withdrawn and reports friendly fire has caused her to seek refuge with the opposition Conservative Party are untrue.

Last June, Dhalla introduced a Private Member’s Bill to amend the Old Age Security Act so immigrant seniors can qualify to receive monthly benefit payments after three years Canadian residency instead of 10 years. The proposal has stirred up a hornet’s nest in communities across the country and within her own Liberal Party ranks.

Monday, Liberal MP Judy Sgro, the party’s designated seniors and pensions critic found herself in the unusual position of publicly poking holes in a fellow Liberal’s proposed legislation instead of damning the opposition Conservative government.Sgro issued a statement that made it clear Dhalla’s proposed pension bill would not be receiving Liberal Party support. The same bill, proposed by former Brampton West Liberal MP Colleen Beaumier in October 2006, received backing from Liberals and other politicians in the House before it died prior to the last election.

“The Leader and the Liberal Caucus feel the solutions to the challenges facing our national pension and retirement systems must be addressed holistically and with a comprehensive national vision,” Sgro said.

Changes being proposed would cost between $300 million and $700 million, she noted. The significant cost and systemic changes require much greater evaluation and careful consideration, according to Sgro.“Canada currently uses a number of support systems and legal requirements when assisting new Canadians,” she continued.

“The Liberal Party feels the OAS system is not the most appropriate method of increasing that assistance.”

The Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP) is outright calling on Dhalla to withdraw her proposal. Susan Eng, the organization’s vice-president of advocacy, said members have been “uniformly negative” in their response to the proposed amendment.

CARP is a staunch advocate for helping seniors facing tough times and poverty, Eng insisted, but this proposal will not do enough to help those it is intended to benefit.As a Private Member’s Bill needing opposition government support to get the money required for change, there is little hope for the bill, Eng added.

This tilt at political windmills has only managed to stir up confusion and anti-immigrant sentiment, Eng said.

“It has provoked an unbelievable amount of backlash,” she remarked. “Where does that leave the people that are supposed to be helped by this.”

There has been a groundswell of criticism and opposition from Canadians who feel recent immigrants should not be able to reap the benefits of a government financed program so soon after arriving to Canada. Many feel that this kind pension system overhaul could leave a much smaller pie for the many Canadians who have toiled decades and now rely on the program in retirement.

In the wake of the latest criticism and the Liberal Party’s refusal to support the bill, media reports claim Dhalla is one of three Liberal MPs talking with the Conservative Party about changing political colours.